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Bilingualism Opens Doors in Any Industry

All too often, American students think of language classes as secondary to more standardized parts of the curriculum such as English, math, science and history. But The New-Messenger reports that Ohio residents are realizing more and more that speaking a second language can distinguish them in an often crowded job market and become a crucial tool in almost any industry.

James Melle, a graduate of Cleveland Marshall College of Law, worked with the Legal Aid Society in Cleveland. As a result, he was well prepared for his career as an attorney in Fremont, Ohio. But his academic achievements played a small part in establishing Melle’s practice compared to his ability to speak Spanish fluently. The familiarity he gained with Latino cultures through his time studying abroad in Mexico and volunteering at the Hispanic Culture Center in Cleveland were also essential experiences that have led to a successful practice.

"I worked with all the farm workers across the state of Ohio, representing their legal needs," Melle noted. He added that when he began his private practice in 1997, he "was the only bilingual Spanish-speaking attorney in Fremont."

With the growing Spanish-speaking population in Ohio, this experience helped to establish him in the Latino community there.

Melle is far from the only person in his community to realize the importance of bilingualism. Guidance counselor Heidi Steyer of Port Clinton High School notes that the majority of students there take language classes, and the school has begun to offer online options to students through the company Rosetta Stone. The state of Ohio as a whole has begun offering online courses in more than 30 languages through the Mango Languages online program.

The benefits of bilingualism go far beyond educational success. For businesses, having bilingual employees offers a variety of options that could prove difficult to pursue otherwise. As businesses look abroad both for new customers and for lower-cost suppliers, having someone who can speak to representatives from other countries directly allows for more reliable negotiations and greater opportunities for networking in new locales.

Some businesses have even begun programs allowing their employees to work abroad on training programs. More and more businesses are likely to view experience abroad as an important point on a resume, either gained during school or through cultural exchange programs designed to offer work experience in a different cultural environment.

Stephanie Kowal, director of Ottawa County Job and Family Services, notes that some public sector offices are required to have bilingual employees to better serve large populations who speak English as a second language. She also points out that the advantages are quite broad.

"There are a number of businesses within an hour commute [from Port Clinton, Ohio,] that are corporate headquarters or primary business locations for multinational organizations," Kowal explained. "Obviously, having second-language skills would be a plus in looking for employment in businesses that have customer bases with those needs."